The Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) Peterborough held its annual general meeting (AGM) on Thursday, February 26, with the keynote speaker being Ryerson University sociology professor Alan Sears. Professor Sears spoke about “Rebuilding Resistance Capacities on the Neoliberal Campus.”
In a brief interview before the meeting, Sears recalled how the “collectivity” that existed when he was an undergrad at Carelton during the ‘70s meant that students would often challenge and negotiate the syllabus when it was handed out in class by the professor.
“Someone would stand up and say: ‘We don’t want a 25 page essay, and there was a sense that others would back you up if you took that risk.’”
Sears observed that university students are more dissatisfied than ever with increasing tuition and debt, but also more depoliticized than ever, compared with the student activist movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
He remembered when tuition was so low relative to the cost of living and wages that he and his peers were usually able to pay off tuition as well as have some money saved after a summer of work.
Today, in light of high unemployment and competitive pressure, students are often working part-time during their studies, only to graduate into looming debt. The bizarre thing, said Sears, is how little we are doing about it.
Could the weakened collective capacity of young people in 2015 be related to how digitally connected, yet socially isolated we are compared to previous generations?
Sears stated that this might be part of it but he said that a lot can happen if you “develop the confidence to trust your guts—otherwise you tend to simply believe the stories you’re told… like the story that bureaucracy and bloated public spending is the problem.”
When asked how he thought major political movements such as the 2012 Quebec student protests were sparked in the very preliminary stages, Sears pointed to the Public Interest Research GouPIRGs as being useful organizations that help keep people engaged and informed through research, education and action.
The annual general meeting itself had a good turn-out of some thirty people. Attendees were reminded that anyone who had not opted out of the refundable $12.78 student levy was a member and was entitled to vote on the motions of the meeting.
The moderators began by recounting the year’s events and workshops. These included the campaign to raise the minimum wage in cooperation with the Workers’ Action Centre; the OPIRG delegation to the World Pride March; a film screening of Tear for Gaza in solidarity with Palestine; the Light Your Spark series of workshops including “City Hall 101: How to Hold Your Politicians Accountable”; and a panel discussion of “Why Poverty Matters” organized the Anit-Poverty OPIRG Working Group, among many others. For a full list of their campaign activities, OPIRG has posted their AGM materials on their website.
After summarizing the campaigns, the OPIRG Peterborough’s coordinator, Matthew Davidson, then went on to review its financial report. Some questions were posed to Davidson by Corey LeBlanc, Vice-President of the Trent Conservatives student group, who asked for an explanation with regards to the group’s salary costs.
Davidson responded that OPIRG Peterborough employs eight staff members, including seven students, who are all payed a living wage. He explained that the disparity between the group’s salary figures and their campaign expenses was due to the fact that the staff members are responsible for carrying out most of the group’s services in-house.
He noted that third-party accountant Steven Bark had found nothing of concern in this year’s financial statements.
A new board of directors was also elected at the meeting. OPIRG’s board now comprises Meghan Johnny, Annette Pedlar, Laura Crump, Sabrina Calogeracos, Ysabel Tuason, Montana Mellett, and Crystal Peckford-McGrath.